Do you make these writing mistakes with the apostrophe? It’s prudent to follow-up this grammar and punctuation series with an article about the elusive apostrophe. Even here in England, where it’s claimed the English language was first put together in the way we use it today, people find it difficult to use apostrophes properly.
The apostrophe may be one of the most difficult punctuation marks to get right, but once you study and understand it you won’t get it wrong ever again. It’s like the turning of a key. Once you learn to open that door, you’ll get it.
This article is not meant to be the most definitive, all inclusive tutorial on apostrophes. It was created to provide you with a general understanding of most common apostrophe usages. You should continue your study if you wish to learn more. I’ve addressed some of the major apostrophe issues here. If you study these you should be able to (at least) pretend you’re an expert at using them 🙂
Note: apostrophes are conversational elements of the English grammar. It’s great to use them when writing blog posts and some freelance articles. Internet reading especially benefits from using apostrophes. However, don’t overuse.
Note that you wouldn’t be expected to use apostrophes in CVs and other formal documents.
Writing mistakes: the apostrophe
1. You can use an apostrophe in a contraction
You can use an apostrophe to show that at least one letter in a word has been left out. This is called a ‘contraction’ – contracting two words into one word.
Example: It’s a great way to make your writing flow faster and read better.
This sentence could be written like this:
It is a great way to make your writing flow faster and read better.
(Notice how the first example flows better and reads more like a conversation).
The word, It’s is a contraction because two words are used as one. The apostrophe is placed between ‘t’ and ‘s’ because the letter ‘i’ was omitted.
In contrast, look at its in this sentence:
The badger hurt its paw, is never written with an apostrophe because it is NOT a contraction. Its in this case is a pronoun (like her, his etc).
Other contractions are don’t (do not), can’t (cannot) doesn’t (does not) I’m (I am) you’re (you are) etc.
The best way to verify the contractions you use is to say the words out loud after you’ve written them. Here I’ve said out loud ‘you have’ so I am sure that ‘you’ and ‘have’ are two separate words. If I’m going to put them together I’ll need an apostrophe where I’m leaving out the ‘ha’.
2. You can use an apostrophe to show ownership
To show ownership, you can add an apostrophe – then an ‘s’.
The girl’s crayons, tells us that the crayons belong to the girl
My friend’s phone, shows us that the phone belongs to my friend.
My daughter’s toys, tells us that the toys belong to my daughter.
And here’s what you do when you want to show ownership for lots of people.
Say in the first sentence that the crayons did not belong to one girl, but to 3 of them. You would write the sentence the same as above: The girls crayons, then decide who the crayons belong to. In this case, they belong to 3 girls so the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’ to make the sentence look like this:
The girls’ crayons – the crayons which belong to more than one girl.
My friends’ phone – the phone which belongs to the brothers who are my friends.
My daughters’ toys – toys belonging to my two daughters.
How to use apostrophes to show ownership when the owner’s name already ends in ‘s.’
When this is the case the extra ‘s’ is not needed (perhaps Americans may still use them, but British English doesn’t). So using our sentences again, you would write:
Rhys’ crayons – the crayons belonging to Rhys.
James’ phone – the phone belonging to James.
Charles’ toys – the toys belonging to Charles.
Using apostrophes for irregular nouns that do not take ‘s’ for their plurals like ‘child’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’.
Even though this seems a bit tricky, just take a bit of time looking over it and you’ll see it’s quite easy.
Say the crayons were owned not by 3 girls, but by 2 girls and one boy – the children. How do we write this?
The ‘crayons belonging to the children’ becomes, ‘The children’s crayons.’ (Note that the ‘s’ does not go after the ‘n’ because there is no such word as ‘childrens.’ The apostrophised word always has to make sense).
The phone belonging to two men becomes, ‘The men’s phone.’
3. When not to use apostrophes
Abbreviations don’t need apostrophes
Words like CDs DVDs CVs, etc., are all abbreviations – which is why they’re written in capital letters. Putting an ‘s’ after the letters simply implies that you mean lots of them (plural).
They’re not contractions.
The 1800s fashion or 70s music are other written examples of where an ‘s’ is used to denote plurality and do not need apostrophes.
Plurals don’t need apostrophes
Plurals are just more than one of a particular item or idea. For example: car sales is perfect the way it is and does not need an apostrophe. Some people get a bit confused when words end in s and wonder if they should just stick an apostrophe on the end – just in case J
The Pronoun its doesn’t need an apostrophe
For instance – the cat is licking her paw is the same (in this case) as the cat is licking its paw. No apostrophe is needed for her, so no apostrophe is needed for its. (If you did apostrophise its, your sentence would read, the cat is licking it is paw).
Here are 6 sentences for you to correct. One of them needs no correction. The answers are at the end for you to check how you did.
1. I cleared out my house last week and got rid of some of my DVD’s. I only kept the ones’ I bought last year as theyv’e got the tunes I listen to most.
2. He kept his childrens’ bedroom furniture long after they left home for college.
3. The dog had been sick for ages before the vet found that it had been bitten on its paw by a poisonous snake.
4. Her table and chair’s got wet because of the flood which hit her village during last nights storm.
5. The girls’ skateboard was broken, so she asked her brother to fix it.
6. My sister does’nt think she can make it to my party tonight. Shes’ got to work instead.
1. I cleared out my house last week and got rid of some of my DVDs. I only kept the ones I bought last year as they’ve got the tunes I listen to most. (3 mistakes)
2. He kept his children’s bedroom furniture long after they left home for college. (1 mistake)
3. The dog had been sick for ages before the vet found that it had been bitten on its paw by a poisonous snake. (Correct)
4. Her table and chairs got wet because of the flood which hit her village during last night’s storm. (2 mistakes)
5. The girl’s skateboard was broken, so she asked her brother to fix it. (1 mistake).
6. My sister doesn’t think she can make it to my party tonight. She’s got to work instead. (2 mistakes).
Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author, a freelance writer and editor. She has 4 blogs and writes about writing at A Blogger’s Books.